I was a precocious reader. Once I mastered the art of reading, I read everything I could with a voracious appetite for more. I enjoyed visits to the Washington Park Branch Library in my hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri as much as I did picnics at Krug Park.

I was a precocious reader. Once I mastered the art of reading, I read everything I could with a voracious appetite for more.  I enjoyed visits to the Washington Park Branch Library in my hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri as much as I did picnics at Krug Park.  
Each year, I participated in the summer reading program, earning stickers or stars to complete the program.  I think there were small rewards but I don't recall what they were. No trinket or treat would be as valuable to me as reading another book. I probably annoyed the librarians with my in-depth synopsis of each book I read but I wanted to make certain there was no doubt I had actually read it.
I read my way through my personal collection of Little Golden Books and moved on to Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, to the Children of Green Knowe series, to the cardboard bound Trixie Beldon, Donna Parker and Nancy Drew books and every biography I could master.  I read fairy tales and mythology and children's classics.  Volume by volume, I worked my way through the set of Childcraft books my mother bought for us.  Each year, a new volume would arrive and I would delight in discovering what it covered.

Somewhere between third and fourth grade, in the summer of 1970, I graduated to selected and parent approved novels.  Some were books my mother received as a member of the Book of the Month club.  Others were volumes already on her bookshelves.  I read 'Gone With The Wind' at an early age, despite the length and loved it so much my father bought me my own hardback copy for my 10th birthday.  Other favorites included Betty Smith's 'A Tree Grows In Brooklyn' and 'Maggie Now' but I also read many more current novels as well.

One of the most memorable debuted today, on July 11, 1960 from J.P. Lippencott and Company.  'To Kill A Mockingbird' by Harper Lee soon became a favorite.  I could identify with the young heroine, Scout, who tells the story.  I've read the novel many times since and what I didn't understand on my first reading, I do now.  The heavier themes of the work didn't affect my appreciation for the story or my understanding of it.  

If I wasn't a reader first, I doubt I would have become a writer.  Reading stories widened my world from the neighborhood to the world to far horizons.  I soon learned I not only wanted to read stories but to write them.  And, of course, I still do.  I may write more news and features at the moment but I'm still writing fiction on my time, spinning stories and building tales.

Writing newspaper copy and novels are at opposite ends of the spectrum so I have to shift my thinking from one to another.  The first is more spare, the facts and information presented to the public but the second offers me the opportunity to go in depth, to weave emotion and description and detail into a story that captivates.

Reading is the foundation of my writing and one of the first adult novels I read, that I remember remains 'To Kill A Mockingbird."

Lee Ann Murphy is a staff writer and writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.